The season here is in transition, just as we are. I certainly did not imagine it was possible, but it is actually getting hotter! With this change we realized that no matter where in the world you are, the weather will always be unpredictable. We returned from Korogwe last week feeling both overwhelmed and excited, which is actually becoming a common mixture of emotions. As both of us have spent time in Nairobi it took us some time to find our footing in the wake of last week’s events. We arrived in Tabora trying to sort through a whole host of emotions. It is easy to forget that the world continues to go on outside of our new home. We receive little news on a daily basis about Tanzania, and hardly any news about the US or international community so this served as a stark reminder that life continues to go on even when you are not up to date on the current events.
Despite all of this, we woke up on Monday morning excited to get our project moving. Everyone was excited to see our new thinner, amazingly tasty chips in Korogwe, and we felt that we had made tremendous progress and it was only going to continue. But like any good project just when you begin to think things are going smoothly, something happens that reminds you of your humility. We encountered those obstacles that threw us a little off course for a few days.
We had planned to hold a big, important meeting on Monday, rather than cooking, because we knew that we still had to straighten out the group’s finances and create a plan for the future. Sunday evening as far as we knew, the meeting was still on, but early Monday morning, we learned that one of our group members had lost someone close to them and the funeral was to be held outside of Tabora so our meeting had to be postponed a few days. We used this as an opportunity to form a detailed agenda of what we hoped to discuss so the meeting would be efficient and effective on its rescheduled date, Wednesday. When we visited with each of our partners on Tuesday to remind them about the new meeting date and time we learned that another one of out partners had lost a family member and would not be able to attend and meetings until the following week. We planned to still hold the meeting and regroup with that woman later in the week, but it became very clear that motivation and enthusiasm were no where to be found in the group.
I read in a book, The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz that “death in Africa is not hidden, but rather woven into the fabric of everyday life.” This was the running theme of our past week as death reached its hands out and in some way affected every member of our group. Not only did our production come to a standstill, but all motivation we had created with the mini expansion seemed to be completely lost.
We were not at all surprised when no one showed up to the meeting on Wednesday except our chairwoman, Mama Mwaliko. So we decided to keep pushing through all the obstacles in our way and make some progress forward. We needed to understand what had happened and how we could rebuild inspiration and energy in the project. She pointed out to us something, which we had overlooked, that the women in our group already have an incredible amount of work that they must do each day to keep their families running. She told us that the project was not a priority for the women now. We were not making much, if any profit, but it was taking up time they could use to make money in other ways. For the remainder of the week we battled back and forth with the fear that our project had become more of a burden than an opportunity. The line between to two can become so thin when the risk is so great.
We work with a group of amazing and hardworking women, who already have so many responsibilities in their daily lives. They take care of their kids, they go to the shambas (farms) to collect food, they cook the meals for their families, and many of them run their own businesses. And here we are, two fresh-faced girls just out of college, ready to take on the world, asking them to make a leap of faith and take these risks with us. We will live here for a year. And during that year we will eat countless meals with too many people to count, we will take part in weddings and funerals, we will play with the kids, and cook with the women. We will become a part of the community, but we will leave.
We are not bound by the consequences of the risks we take here, but our partners are. While we may have nothing to lose, they have everything on the line. How can we ask them to take these risks with us when their leap is so much greater than our own? Having both studied different international development models we have both encountered NGO’s and non-profits that have nothing but the best intentions, but do not create sustainable projects, which if those projects fail can often leave the very people they are try to help in worse conditions than when they began. We are no experts, and even if we were, how can we be sure this is what the community needs, and even wants? We have only good intentions, but are those enough to ensure that our project will have positive, lasting results?